Editorial: Ban on toxic waste fails to get support

May 02, 2014

Times Herald Record May 1, 2014

Those who oppose hydraulic fracturing and those who are in favor all understand that New York will not be able to move ahead on any permits or regulations without including plans to handle the wastewater the process produces.

In states that have allowed drilling, disposal of the wastewater that gets pumped up from the wells has been a challenge. Water treatment plants often are not large enough to handle the volume or not equipped to handle the contents of the wastewater. Storing the wastewater is one approach, but that merely postpones the need to find a real solution, and even the most secure storage locations have trouble preventing leaks.

In light of that, state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, introduced legislation that would have prevented New York from accepting the shipment of waste from other states that allow fracking and need to get rid of these toxic byproducts.

That legislation made sense on a number of fronts. First, the state has not yet decided if it will allow fracking. Second, should the state eventually decide to go ahead and allow drilling, it will need to come up with regulations to make sure that wastewater is disposed of safely and treated so that it does not pose a threat to aquifers and wells. Third, any such improvement in treatment will require both time and investment.

In other words, the prospect of a large-scale, safe and affordable system for treating the millions of gallons of wastewater that fracking produces is several steps and several years away.

Tkaczyk justified the need for such legislation by noting that federal regulations do not consider fracking wastewater as hazardous, even though it is. As a result, there is nothing stopping drillers in other states from sending their wastewater across the border into New York for treatment, avoiding any legal or environmental obstacles in Pennsylvania, for example. Think of it as their payback for all of the garbage we ship to landfills there and farther west.

Because the Republicans who control the Senate did not want to act on the bill, Tkaczyk tried a parliamentary maneuver to get it through the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. She hoped to force a vote with the assumption that even those who are in favor of fracking would not be so bold as to welcome the importation of Pennsylvania's wastewater before New York had a chance to put in its own safeguards.

Well, she was wrong. Republicans blocked her bill.

She thinks this is because many who voted against the legislation get money from oil and gas interests. The Republican spokesman did not really answer that, but he did say that she was guilty of "accusing people of having dark motives" and failing to do the necessary work to get support within the Republicans on the committee.

The spokesman did not clarify how she was supposed to do that, what other arguments she needed to make to help convince her colleagues that the state should block the importation of toxic wastewater at least until it is ready to treat it safely